Now the rebuilding of Iraq begins

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

This week, the Pentagon declared that major combat in Iraq was over. Earlier that day, Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown and the last major city not under coalition control, fell without a fight. Consider these facts:

There have been remarkably few militarycasualties given the scale and ferocity of the war Coalition forces were careful to a degree never before seen in history to minimize civilian casualties, even though it was Saddam Hussein's practice to use human shields.

Eight U.S. prisoners of war were rescued, and only four were listed as missing in action.

A few Iraqis have tried to leave, but most seem in favor of staying in order to be a part of the new Iraq, despite looting and food shortages.

All oil fields in Iraq are under coalition control. The last oil well fire in southern Iraqi was extinguished a day earlier.

Saddam Hussein and his sons are either dead or hidden so deep they're no longer a factor.

An Iraqi nuclear scientist, Jaffar al-Jaffer, surrendered to authorities and is being interviewed by Americans. Last week, Saddam's top science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, surrendered to U.S. forces.

The world is saying the United States needs to turn its attention to rebuilding, but that request is moot. U.S. leaders had their minds on Iraq's future government before the first bomb was dropped. Already Justice Department officials have been overseas to deal with legal system issues. Representatives from the Treasury Department and Agriculture Department have been there to address issues in their specialties.

Of course, questions remain about who will lead Iraq.

Also at issue is the United Nations' role. That body, despite the Security Council's determination that war with Iraq was wrong, is eager now to be included in the reconstruction.

And the leaders of France, Germany and Russia had the gall last week to call the war "illegitimate." Tell that to the triumphant Iraqis who helped topple statues of Saddam last week.

"The task of restoring the political, economic and social system of Iraq is enormous," French President Jacques Chirac said. "Only the United Nations has the legitimacy to do that."

Perhaps President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will allow the United Nations to have a role in the reconstruction. They're the ones who put men and women into battle to set the stage for determining Iraq's future. Chirac should leave the decision making to world leaders with courage.

One thing is clear: It's going to take money to rebuild a battle-scarred nation. Any country that wants to have a say in that process should bring its checkbook to the negotiating table.

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